The biggest problem Jeb Bush faces in his 2016 presidential campaign is his last name. Aside from the fact that another Bush in the White House would be an obvious indicator of the rampant nepotism in American politics, voters have been concerned that Jeb will have the same unpopular views and policies as his father and brother.
During a speech to the Chicago Council of Global Affairs today, Bush attempted to distance himself from the legacies of those two presidents. “I love my brother, I love my dad, I actually love my mother, too,” Bush said, “I admire their service to the nation and the difficult decisions they had to make. But I am my own man. My views are shaped by my own thinking and own experiences.”
Jeb Bush is obviously an individual. If he’s seriously going to be considered to lead the nation, however, he can’t be separated from his family tree. It might be unfair to judge people based on their relatives who happened to choose the same career, but it’s inevitable when those people end up in positions of power. You can’t talk about Eli Manning without talking about Peyton. You don’t talk about Kim Jong-un without talking about Kim Jong-il. That’s not to say that Eli didn’t land a job as a starting quarterback in the NFL based on his own hard work and skill, but his last name didn't exactly hurt. When it comes to politics, even in a democratic society far removed from the oligarchical nature of North Korea, it’s even easier to advance your career if you know or are related to the right people. Ask Rand Paul how he managed to sneak his way into the political spotlight soon after his father's career came to end.
Jeb Bush is definitely different than his brother in many ways. He can form sentences without stumbling when speaking in public, and his name is not George (although his son’s name is!). He’s also similar to George in ways, both positive and negative. Both Bush brothers are funny and charismatic. Both also served as conservative governors of Southern states. Jeb launched Florida’s A+ Plan, an education reformation similar to No Child Left Behind.
The other similarities and differences are well-documented. What Bush really meant during his Chicago speech today, of course, is that he will treat foreign policy differently than his brother. George W. Bush’s foreign policy mistakes plunged the country into multiple lengthy, deadly, unnecessary and catastrophic wars. The current unrest in the Middle East is a byproduct of those decisions. If it were Jeb in office instead of George at the time, it’s uncertain if he would have done the same things. He certainly hasn’t claimed that he wouldn't have. He’s just made the vague statement that he’s different without providing evidence or examples to back that claim.
If Bush truly wanted to distance himself from the legacies of his father and brother, he would make definitive statements regarding the policies with which he disagrees. Instead, he’s used a tactic that voters will likely need to get used to as the 2016 campaign progresses: attacking Obama. “The great irony of the Obama presidency is this: Someone who came to office promising greater engagement with the world has left America less influential in the world,” Bush said. “They draw red lines … then erase them. With grandiosity, they announce resets and disengage. Hashtag campaigns replace actual diplomacy and engagement. Personal diplomacy and maturity is replaced by leaks and personal disparagement.”
Those criticisms have merit, but they seem to establish Bush’s foreign policy as more similar to his brother’s than anything else. He’s saying that the United States should be the most influential country in the world, asserting their dominance through military action if any threat is made. At this point in the campaign, no one has really asked Bush the tough questions. His views — and how they differ from those of his father and brother — should be rightfully exposed as the pre-election media frenzy progresses. Any voter who sees the headlines proclaiming Bush is his “own man,” however, should not completely trust what the politician has only vaguely stated.